Heroin use tied to prescription med abuse

WASHINGTON – More and more people have been abusing heroin across the country, and now, the Center for Disease Control is contributing the rise in use to the over-prescribing of painkillers.

“I think it’s a significant and growing problem,” said Elinore McCance-Katz, the Chief Medical Officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

A serious problem that’s finally starting to get serious attention. McCance-Katz said we need to keep talking about what she’s calling an “epidemic.”

“It’s epidemic in that we haven’t seen this before,” she said. “We haven’t seen this big increase in people that are overdosing, people that are having adverse events that are associated with their drug use, and, we haven’t seen this number of people that were previously using prescribed medications go to a street drug like heroin.”

And that’s a public health concern because an increase in the use of intravenous drugs, like heroin, can spread diseases.
In most places, it only takes about 20 dollars to buy enough heroin to get high or avoid withdrawal.

Because the drug is cheap and easily available, experts say getting help needs to be the same – cheap and easily available.

McCance-Katz said medical professionals need to take steps to decrease the use of heroin. She, and other health professionals, suggest:

  • Doing drug screenings and increasing access to medicine that can stop an overdose
  • Educating physicians to know when people really need strong pain medications, offering other approaches to medicine, like physical therapy
  • Using a central database so doctors know all the drugs someone is prescribed.
  • In addition to all that, McCance-Katz said it’s important to make sure the public is aware of the link between pain killers and heroin use.

“We have to talk to the public about prevention and about avoiding these medications, and the dangers of misusing these medications,” she said.

It’s a danger McCance-Katz says she doesn’t expect to go away right away; she thinks heroin abuse will continue to rise until Americans truly understand the dangers of the drug and abusers get easier access to help.

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